House of Cards: Politics of addiction - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

House of Cards: Politics of addiction

Last year I caught the first episode of House of Cards, that Netflix show starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. It didn’t keep my attention at the time so I dropped it. Netflix you see, had other programs with which to be obsessed. Like Breaking Bad — and oh what an obsession that has become. A life of crime never looked so inviting, at least as a voyeur.

Kevin Spacey as Francis "Frank" Underwood in this hit Netflix series, House of Cards, (Screen shot from HoC)

Kevin Spacey as Francis “Frank” Underwood in this hit Netflix series, House of Cards,
(Screen shot from HoC)

House of Cards though had caught the attention of many other people: politicians, Washington media types and the audience that likes to think it is smart enough to understand the vagaries of the political process. Souls as cynical as my own.

HoC, as it is now been shortened to, is a political thriller that starts with a heavy congressman (Kevin Spacey) finding out the job he expected to get after the new president was elected (Secretary of State) went to someone else.

The loyal congressman, the Majority Whip, was told the administration needed a powerful ally like him in Congress. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. President.

It didn’t interest me; another political drama? Steven Soderbergh tried that with the HBO wonder, K Street, but it was so dismally unpopular it only lasted one season and its page on IMDb is bereft of any of the usual adornment; like a long list of trivia and famous quotes. There isn’t even much discussion by viewers — in other words, it was a flop. Most people didn’t understand it.

Gerald McRaney as the ruthless businessman Raymond Tusk. (Screen shot from HoC)

Gerald McRaney as the ruthless businessman Raymond Tusk.
(Screen shot from HoC)

HoC, on the other hand, people seem to understand that and the more cynical you are about politics, the easier it is to watch because, hey, isn’t this exactly the way it works in politics?

Let’s hope not, but maybe that’s just the optimist in me trying to break free.

When the second season was released, everyone was talking about it: politicians, pundits and of course the stars — David Letterman let go a spoiler when Kevin Spacey was a guest (damn you Letterman!) — and then Peggy Noonan penned a Wall Street Journal column condemning the show and Washington politics. Well, if Peggy Noonan doesn’t like it then it might be good.

The final nail in this latest coffin of obsession came from my friend Vicki, via the Facebook, when she said she had completed the entirety of Season Two and was waiting for Season Three.

Now I’m hooked and everything I did for a week revolved around how it fit into my HoC schedule. I was behind the curve, so it was binge viewing for me.

Damn you Vicki! Now I’m salivating for Season Three and it’s all your fault — but we’re still cool. It was nice seeing you the other night.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood, the 21st Century Lady Macbeth . (Screen shot from HoC)

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood, the 21st Century Lady Macbeth .
(Screen shot from HoC)

Without pulling a Letterman, in case any of you haven’t started to watch House of Cards, egos are dwarfed only by resentment and grudges. Being that the show is on Netflix, there are plenty of “F”-bombs and nudity abounds. This is Washington, D.C. after all, the Hollywood for ugly people.

The thing is, many of us Americans are a cynical lot. We immediately think the worst and often enough our negativity and pessimism is rewarded with a high (or low) crimes or misdemeanors. Or at least glaring embarrassment on the part of someone in the public eye.

The most popular “news,” especially on the internet? Celebrity gossip. A few years ago I heard the names TMZ and Perez Hilton. “What’s that,” I asked myself.

Most people reading this probably have heard of both TMZ and Perez Hilton, but I’ve never been a fan of celebrity gossip so, they were vague to me. As it turns out, TMZ is a leading gossip website (and TV show) and Perez Hilton is a well known online gossip columnist.

Hilton skyrocketed to fame when he, as a judge in the Miss USA pageant, asked Miss California, San Diego resident Carrie Prejean, her opinion on gay marriage.

Prejean, being a devout Christian, gave an honest answer. “Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”

Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA 2009. (Photo via her Facebook page)

Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA 2009.
(Photo via her Facebook page)

It was the wrong answer of course. Honesty seldom is the right answer in these sorts of things. Prejean should have put a smile on her face and said, “Whatever floats your boat!” Or something of that nature.

Hilton then made a video about it for his website and the shit storm commenced. By the time it was over everyone involved was a household name, from Prejean and Hilton, to fellow judge, Playboy Playmate Shanna Moakler (Dec. 2001) and Miss USA Pageant owner Donald Trump.

Perez Hilton was a hero for the gay rights movement and Carrie Prejean for the right wing, anti-equal rights crowd. Hilton is still a gossip columnist and Prejean is a married woman with a daughter and seat in a pew of a very conservative Christian church in San Diego.

TMZ has become so popular it even has a syndicated TV show. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it is funny. Not only do they mock celebrities, they laugh at themselves, which is often funnier than the celebrities they are stalking.

In the end though it’s all useless gossip. As Frank Underwood says, “I don’t have patience for useless things.”

House of Cards is like getting the inside scoop on the gossip around the nation’s capitol. It’s fiction (or so we hope), but for the addictively cynical, this is confirmation of just how bad it is in the halls of Congress and the White House.

One of the aspects of HoC Peggy Noonan whined about in her column was all the politicians and pundits who glommed onto the show, hoping to get a cameo as themselves. The show’s producers don’t play favorites. Personalities from CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, and ABC have been featured — even Morley Safer. Say it ain’t so!

We get to watch how a politician spurned exacts his revenge, in a Machiavellian plot worthy of … Machiavelli or the Borgias. Or Shakespeare; specifically Macbeth and King Richard III.

Kate Mara (sister of Rooney Mara) plays cub reporter Zoe Barnes. Some boundaries ought not be tested. (Screen shot from HoC)

Kate Mara (sister of Rooney Mara) plays cub reporter Zoe Barnes. Some boundaries ought not be tested.
(Screen shot from HoC)

Lying, cheating, double-dealing and back stabbing, even murder. Whatever it takes to get to the top — do it. Reminds us of the scene from The Godfather when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is telling Kaye (Diane Keaton), “Now who’s being naive?” The Mafia had people killed, but so do politicians.

In one scene, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is telling her husband how to get back in the good graces of someone they are setting up to take the fall. “Seduce him; give him your heart. Cut it out and put it in his fucking hands.”

So Hubby Francis (Kevin Spacey as Frank to all but his wife) does just that and the result … you just have to watch the show and see.

It’s just a TV show, based on a British TV show, which itself is based on a book by Michael Dobbs (the British Lord), published 25 years ago. It’s fiction. This isn’t really how the sausage is made in Washington, DC, not entirely anyway.

Flip-flopping has become so common among politicians, from presidents to the congressmen on the lowest rungs of the political ladder, we don’t even make much note of it anymore.

Mitt Romney’s flip-flops on major issues hardly made a dent in his reputation, although in fairness to the rest of us, his rep as a politician wasn’t very high with anyone — right or left. Half the votes (at least) he received in 2012 were people voting for anyone but Barack Obama. There weren’t many people that voted “for” Mitt Romney.

Back to House of Cards: are the Washington elites just a little too giddy for their Hollywood moment? Jumped the shark even? If they’re quoting lines of dialogue from HoC to reporters …

“Senator, will the Senate reach an agreement on the Continuing Resolution tonight?”
Senator Needs-His-Own-Speech-Writer: “I never make such big decisions so long after sunset and so far from dawn.”
Reporter: “You don’t make any decisions during business hours either.”

No one, to my knowledge, has ever had that particular conversation, it’s more an example. But, an argument can be made that Congress started going downhill when Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House and the presidency took a turn for the worse when we elected a B actor to the top office in the land. Long before House of Cards hit the netwaves.

Jon Stewart lampooning Peggy Noonan for an entirely different reason, but it's a good illustration of who Peggy Noonan is. (screen shot from Comedy Central's The Daily Show)

Jon Stewart lampooning Peggy Noonan for an entirely different reason, but it’s a good illustration of who Peggy Noonan is.
(screen shot from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show)

Peggy Noonan’s claim to fame, all that she claims anyway, is that she worked for President Ronald Reagan as a speechwriter. She’s still over the moon for the guy; Noonan wrote a glowing book of fact and fiction about President Reagan called, When Character was King.

Some reviewer on Amazon.com calls it the last word on the former president. Well, I’m sure more objective historians will get around to writing better books than anything Peggy Noonan has penned.

“He was to popular politics what Henry James was to American literature; he was the master.” Oh my! “He was probably the sweetest, most innocent man ever to serve in the Oval Office …” Oh Dear!

Innocent of what? Until George W. Bush came along, Ronald Reagan was the worst president of my lifetime. But I digress. This is about House of Cards and a little about Peggy Noonan’s reaction to it and the “elites,” as she calls them, who love watching the show.

Let me digress a little further. The Reagan White House was an imperial presidency; he thought he could get away with selling arms to Iran and then funneling the money to Nicaraguan death squads. Both of which were illegal.

Actually, he did get away with it, although over 200 members of his administration went to jail for various crimes committed while working for President Reagan. In that sense, maybe Peggy Noonan is an expert on scandal and political corruption — she was right in the middle of one of the worst administrations in our history.

Which also means she hasn’t the credibility to criticize House of Cards and the politicians and media types who play along with the show. At least they know it’s fiction (most of them anyway). Peggy Noonan still hasn’t come to grips with just how corrupt the Reagan Administration was when she was blowing butterflies and soap bubbles up Reagan’s pant legs.

Claire and Francis Underwood, Played by Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey. You don’t want to make an enemy of this couple. ((Screen shot from HoC)

Claire and Francis Underwood, Played by Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey. You don’t want to make an enemy of this couple.
((Screen shot from HoC)

Unlike the Iran-Contra scandal, House of Cards is just a work of fiction, the most popular TV show not on television — you have to subscribe to Netflix to get it. I watch it on my computer.

Now we are waiting, ever so patiently, for Season Three. Netflix released the entire Season Two all at once to facilitate our penchant for binge viewing. They even brag about it on their Facebook page. The downside is we now have to wait a whole year for Season Three. And you know when Netflix releases it we will binge once again. We are indeed addicts of the worst sort.

Well, Dexter is on Netflix, I guess I could binge on that …


About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.
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